The March Toward Marijuana Legalization: 2016 and Beyond [FEATURE]

State-level marijuana law reform won big in this month's elections, with legalization initiatives triumphing convincingly in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC. The Florida medical marijuana initiative lost, but only because it had a higher bar of 60% of the popular vote. It ended up with 57%, a clear sign of solid majority support. And don't forget Guam -- the US territory approved medical marijuana with 56% of the vote.

The California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform is laying the groundwork for 2016. (CCPR)
Local marijuana reform initiatives also fared well. In Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan, activists built on earlier successes to win more victories this year, while in New Mexico, voters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe voted in favor of decriminalizing pot possession.

All in all, a good year for marijuana law reform, the second good election year in a row. Since 2012, voters in four states and DC have been asked to legalize marijuana. They've now said yes in all of them.

And now, eyes to turn to 2016 and beyond. There are excellent prospects for more victories in the West, as well as in the Northeast. And there could be some surprises lurking out there in the middle of the country.

California, of course, is the big prize, and efforts are already well underway to ensure that legalization is on the ballot in 2016 -- and that it actually wins this time. Arizona and Nevada are also on the radar, and the Nevada initiative campaign has already turned in twice the number of signatures needed to make the 2016 ballot.

In the Northeast, both Maine and Massachusetts are initiative states, and legalization appears headed for the ballot in both. In Rhode Island and Vermont, the push will come in the state legislatures.

"Things are clearly headed in the right direction," said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) communications director Mason Tvert, scanning the post-election terrain. "Even in a midterm where we saw large Republican gains, we also saw large gains for marijuana policy reform. A lot of people would say the turnout was smaller and more conservative, yet we still saw strong majorities approving measures making marijuana legal in various states and cities."

MPP will be backing 2016 initiatives in five states, Tvert said, although the Nevada legislature could ease its burden by just approving an initiative rather than punting to the voters.

"In Nevada, the petition drive has just wrapped up. At this point, our goal there is to pass the ballot initiative; if the legislature chooses to take an objective look and give it some real consideration, that would be excellent, too," he said.

"We also have committees filed to support initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts," Tvert said. "In California, we want to begin to raise money to support that effort, but it's pretty early in the process. We expect to see very solid support for such a measure in California, especially running in a presidential election year when support for legalizing marijuana has been growing nationwide. Prop 19 got 47% in 2010; that will be six years ago come 2016."

"We have a pretty comprehensive statewide coalition working on this," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, which is a key part of that grouping, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. "The coalition includes us, the Prop 19 people, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, MPP, the Emerald Growers Association, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been a partner in this, too."

A little less than two years out, it's a work in progress, said Gieringer.

"Pretty much all the leading groups interested in drug reform are interested in collaborating, but exactly how that will work hasn't been settled yet," he said.

Now that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, Gieringer sees some political space for pushing the envelope.

"Home cultivation will be in it," he said. "They have that in Oregon and Colorado, and we're going to have it in California. I also want to provide for on-site consumption; we're working to get that instituted here in Oakland. In Colorado, they banned public use, which is one thing if you mean smoking pot on the street, but governments tend to have an expansive view of what constitutes public use, like a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act. I think we can provide for licensed on-site consumption, at least by local option."

And no reason to make what he called "unnecessary concessions."

"We have a DUID law, and we don't need to change that," he said. "They didn't do that in Colorado and Oregon, and we don't need to do it. We learned a lesson in Washington -- that lack of an express DUID provision didn't make a difference -- and we're not going to repeat that."

Although more than any other group in the coalition, CANORML represents the interests of marijuana consumers, Gieringer said it's not pot smokers or growers who are going to make an initiative victorious.

Maybe Missouri's Show Me Cannabis will show us all.
"Marijuana users are 12% to 15% of the population here; we really have to depend on more than that," he said. "The users and growers will not determine this campaign. And I'm sure there will be people discontented with however the initiative turns out; there always are. But there aren't that many growers in the state, anyhow. Some growers didn't like Prop 19, but it failed for other reasons. It didn't win in Los Angeles County, and that's not because of the growers."

In some states, such as Massachusetts, activists have been piling up marijuana reform victories for years. MassCANN/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have an unbroken record of winning non-binding public policy questions on marijuana reform issues going back seven election cycles. Voters in the Bay State have also signaled their approval of marijuana law reform by passing statewide medical marijuana (2008) and decriminalization initiatives (2012).

Now, Bay State Repeal has formed to free the weed in 2016, and it has a pot populist tinge to it. The group wants home cultivation, not just to keep prices down, but "to keep the cops from busting through the door just because there is marijuana growing there" and it wants taxation and regulation, but only "moderate," not "cash-cow taxation or giant licensing fees."

In Maine, where MPP has been active, putting successful municipal legalization initiatives on the ballot in Portland and South Portland (but losing one in Lewiston), there could be not one but two legalization initiatives unless differing actors come together. In addition to the MPP effort, a new group, Legalize Maine, is also moving forward with plans for an initiative.

As with Bay State Repeal, there is a pot populist tinge. Legalize Maine couches its argument not only in terms of justice and common sense, but also talks about jobs and economic development. And it wants marijuana regulated in a way that "focuses on people instead of large economic interests that seeks to dominate the marijuana industry."

Legalization could also pop up in some unexpected places, too. While the major movement organizations already have selected targets for 2016 and have plans well afoot, things could break faster than the big players anticipate, and local activists in some states -- Arkansas and Missouri, for example -- may manage to get initiatives on the ballot without significant outside support.

In Missouri, Show Me Cannabis has been undertaking a vigorous and energetic campaign to put an initiative on the ballot in 2016. It submitted its initiative to state officials earlier this month; the first step in getting the measure before the voters. Similar efforts by different groups are also underway next door in Arkansas.

Those Ozark-area efforts don't have the backing of big national organization behind them, but that could change.

The Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann wants to see the polling. (OSI)
"If these initiatives are well-drafted and the polling is strong, we'll help as best we can, but we're not making any financial commitments," said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "We have a major commitment in California, and we're helping MPP draft initiatives in other states. In Missouri, let's make sure there's a solid draft initiative, and if the polling is there, well, a victory in Missouri would be very compelling."

Seeing marijuana legalization creep along the West Coast, make inroads on the East Coast, and maybe even in the Ozarks would make for a very impressive 2016, but some Midwestern activists are looking further down the road.

Led by indefatigable Tim Beck, Michigan activists have managed to pass municipal personal legalization initiatives in all the state's largest cities in the past few years. This year, they went eight for 13 with similar initiatives in smaller Michigan communities.

Michigan voters also approved marijuana in a statewide initiative in 2008, but, for Beck, getting the state's dispensary situation settled -- not legalization -- is the first order of business.

"Although the state legislature is totally controlled by the GOP, we've been working with them, and they've kind of seen the light on a regulated system with a lot of local control, which is big with Republicans," he said. "We have one of the best medical marijuana laws in the country, and it's going to get better with a regulated dispensary system, as well as ingestibles. We won 95-14 in the House, and it's going through the Senate now," he said.

"We have over 1.5 million people now living in cities that have decriminalized," Beck said. "And we liberated 140,000 this year -- on the cheap. This has an impact. When we have dispensaries and when we have decriminalization, local officials won't be able to say 'Oh, we don't want marijuana here,' because the voters do."

Legalization may not be the first order of business, but it is the ultimate goal, Beck said.

"My philosophy has never been that the solution is medical, but straight-out, unadorned legalization, but we're -having to do it on our own," he explained. "Michigan is fly-over country for the big players. It's a large state with a population of more than 10 million, so it's expensive to win a campaign, and it's a bit more conservative than the East or West coasts."

That means Michigan needs to be patient.

"Our realistic priority for the next couple of years is to work with the legislature," Beck said. "We have a new class of entrepreneurs who have come out of the closet, and we've been able to fund our own lobbyist to the tune of about $150,000. Once we get dispensaries, then we'll turn to decriminalization at the statehouse. We had a decriminalization bill this year, but it was introduced by a Democrat and went nowhere."

Beck is also waiting for the opinion polls to move further in the right direction.

"There's a weird dichotomy in our polling," the veteran activist explained. "We get well over 60% saying yes to reallocating police resources away from small-time marijuana users, but when it comes to legalization, that number drops dramatically. We might be at 50%; we'll do another poll at year's end, but I don't think much will change. It's hard to demand that anyone open their checkbook when you're only running 50%. We have to just keep going on an incremental basis. Maybe by 2018 or 2020, we'll be ready."

While Beck counsels patience, Nadelmann is counseling prudence. And while he is of course happy that all the legalization initiatives passed, he doesn't want people to think it's going to be a walk in the park from here on in.

"The downside is a sense of overconfidence, a feeling that marijuana will legalize itself," he said. "That could make it more difficult to fundraise if there's a sense that you can put anything on the ballot and not anticipate serious opposition. There could be a sense in the industry that you can be free riders while the activists raise the money."

There are other potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope could push too far, Nadelmann said.

"Don't forget the Montana disaster," he warned, referring the wide open medical marijuana expansion there that created a backlash that drove the industry back into the ground. "Don't be short-sighted and greedy, and contribute and support the organizations working on this."

And don't forget federal pot prohibition.

It's one thing for a handful of states -- or even more -- to legalize marijuana, but as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, even the legal marijuana states could theoretically face a concerted federal effort to roll back the clock. Using federal marijuana prohibition as a hammer, a hostile Congress and president could wreak havoc with state-level regulation and taxation. (Ironically, a move to do that could result in marijuana being legal to smoke and possess in those states, but not to sell or be taxed or regulated.)

But if repealing federal pot prohibition is the Holy Grail, reformers still have a ways to go.

"A lot more states are going to have to approve this before it gets to the point where repeal can pass," said Nadelmann. "When you look at medical marijuana and how slowly that moves on Capitol Hill, you see that it wasn't until this year that we actually got something passed, and that was just to stop federal interference in medical marijuana states. I'm more optimistic about winning votes like that next year, to get the federal government out of the way."

Congress has not been especially responsive to growing support for marijuana legalization, and there's no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, Nadelmann said.

"It's hard to imagine Congress playing any sort of leadership role on this stuff," he explained.

Maybe when we have 24 legal marijuana states, not just four of them. That means there's still plenty of work to be done at the state house and the ballot box.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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I LOVE THAT HE'S POINTING

I LOVE THAT HE'S POINTING THIS OUT. THE MOVEMENT WILL GO DOWN HILL UNLESS WE ALL HELP.

This will get voted down in

This will get voted down in Missouri if the wording stays the same PERIOD!!!!! We here in Missouri dont want our MARIJUANA PROFITS to fund the police pension fund. We want our tax $$$$ to go towards infrastructure,schools and abuse

Lawful

    

      Cannabis is the KEYSTONE to our very  idea of freedom and liberty..For those who support pot for the :Money/Taxes it will make I say Thats not the reason or the necessary way to think....Freeda weed in the

truist sense and keep the FEDS and govt. out of the eqatioin....Free at Last,,,we r free at last

 

Prohibition, read regulation, is what got us in trouble in the first place.

Perhaps a digression about medical marijuana

This report is about legalizing recreational use. But if the recent study showing a 25% reduction in prescription opiate deaths in states that have MMJ is confirmed, that should convince any but the most fanatic or sadistic haters of weed that MMJ is real and needs to be legal. And should increase respect for cannabis in general.

As should be happening every day that goes by in the U.S.without a single fatality reported related to cannabis use, while alcohol abuse kills somewhere between 150-300+ a day, depending on the definition used (sole cause, primary cause, contributing cause, etc). What a stinking farce the 'law' is. We're fighting the law and we're gonna win, because the law is a degenerate piece of garbage.

We need a safer recreational alternative to alcohol and cannabis is it.

Legalization

No matter what the legalization pundits say, as long as people must pee in a cup for a job, true freedom is just a dream.

You make a good point

But why would people even want to work for an organization that wants them to pee in a cup? I guess because, sadly,  they have no better choice. Maybe once they stop stealing so much money from cannabis users, we'll be able to create more cannabis user friendly jobs.

MJ Legalization

Ethan Nadelmann is a true American hero. In spite of overwhelming odds, his organization along with NORML have slowly but surely winning the hearts of the American people who are tired of their lives, and often their children's lives being ruined by greed, ignorance, and racism. The greed comes from police legally robbing people who they catch with small amounts of marijuana and large sums of federal dollars going their way if they bust lots of marijuana users. The ignorance comes from those that think the Govt is doing the right thing keeping marijuana illegal when they know next to nothing about it and it's true effects and benefits. The racism is obvious. The way the laws were first passed and the way they have been enforced has all been to the detriment of the hispanics and blacks.

Thank the Gods that people like Ethan Nadelmann and Allen St. Pierre (of NORML) have the fortitude and know-how to change the incredible stupidity of the drug way; especially with regards to marijuana which almost everyone knows is much less harmful than tobacco or alcohol! We can all (those of us that are not ignorant, racist, or greedy) hope that our elected leaders get on board with legalization before even more harm from prohibition occurs and even more lives get ruined because of their stupid laws.

Freedom people! That's what our nation is supposed to be about! That means we should, as Americans, have the right to grow and use this herb if we so choose! It is Nazi-Like to lock someone up for choosing to use marijuana and to pass these anti-freedom laws which, in fact, create a criminal element.

the growers in California

the growers in California United and got everyone in NORCAL to vote no

 

i told eveyone in my family to vote no, the bill was crap....

 

we will vote YES in 2016, regardless of the bill, THE TIME HAS COME

Marijuana Legalization in NJ

NJ has had a legalization bill--including home cultivation and regulated sales--introduced into its legislature since March 2014.  See: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/S2000/1896_I1.HTM

(There is no I&R in the Garden State.)  

However, given the certain veto by Gov. Christie if the legislation were to pass in the Senate and Assembly, there has been no action, i.e., hearings, on the bill. No Christie veto has been overridden by the legislature in his five years of office.

We hope to start building support for legalization by holding informational hearings starting in 2015.  With luck, NJ could see legalization of marijuana as early as 2018.

What about Texas?

I never saw Texas mentioned in this article. Last I heard was MPP was going to begin a campaign in Texas. There have not been any updates about this?

MPP and Texas

Efforts are underway in TX, check MPP.org - it may take than one election cycle. 

There will be three bills

There will be three bills sponsored this next session in Texas, the first that would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 1 ounce, the second is a medical marijuana bill that follows a similar pattern to those seen currently in 23 states and D.C., and a legalization (tax and regulate) bill. It will be a long game in Texas on legalization and probably on medical as well. While there is strong support among likely voters for both, Texas is not a voter initiative state, so getting through the legislature is a must. 

The courts might force their hand on medical marijuana

They might decide to get real and order that cannabis' scheduling be changed to comply with science. A federal court has allowed scientific testimony on this for the first time in a long time, maybe they'll come clean and demolish the insane and sadistic prohibition on MMJ.

Democratic primaries; A legalizer president is not impossible

Most democrats are in favor of legalization. In fact, most americans are in favor of legalization. When the primaries come, there will undoubtedly be a few candidates that want legalization. If the democrats nominate one of them, fedaral legalization could come as soon as 2017 (at least in theory). There is no reason to think this is impossible. The republicans can't nominate a legalizer because most republicans are against legalization, but for the democrats this is a big enough issue that it might just be possible. Keep your hopes up, people! If you're willing to be a single issue voter, consider registering democrat and vote in the primaries. 

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